Tiny Desk Contest entrant Zhalarina on the paternal bond that inspired 'Lala' : All Songs Considered Judges for the Tiny Desk Contest watched thousands of videos, and Weekend Edition is highlighting some of the standouts — this week: rapper Zhalarina's "Lala."

Tiny Desk Contest entrant Zhalarina on the paternal bond that inspired 'Lala'

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We've been highlighting some standout entries to this year's Tiny Desk contest, and this week a video that showcases a single, powerful voice.


ZHALARINA SANDERS: Yo, my name is Zhalarina, and this is my 2021 Tiny Desk Contest submission.

(Rapping) Holy smokes, Batman. Holy Ghost tap dance. Shadrach, Meschach, Pac-Man, daddy's home. And his children forgot. They were glad he was gone. Lock the pills in the truck when daddy's alone...

SIMON: That is Zhalarina Sanders performing "Lala," and she joins us now from Tampa.

Thanks so much for being with us.

SANDERS: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: Boy, those are some hard words, but I gather "Lala" is a love letter to your father.

SANDERS: Yes. That's the best way that I can describe it. And I wrote it while he was still in, so it was nice for him to hear it when he got out.

SIMON: He was still in prison, right?

SANDERS: In prison, yes, sorry. He had been arrested and sentenced for about six and a half years.

SIMON: What moved you to come up with this song?

SANDERS: Sure. I think it was something that I always knew I would write about eventually. It was more a matter of when I would write it and how I would because I didn't know how to talk about those things and then also tell the world that he's, like, our favorite person, me and my siblings. And so when I finally felt like I had figured out how to convey that, that's when I wrote it.


SANDERS: (Rapping) And he made sure every lie was a good one. So if he said he quit that Lala he was good for it.

SIMON: And the phrase La La Land comes from something he used to say to you, I gather.

SANDERS: Yes. So there was a time, unfortunately - and it happened once - where my dad sort of seemed like he wasn't in his body, and I didn't know what was happening. I thought he was being silly. He realized that I realized it and explained in the quickest way that he could that he was just in La La Land, and he apologized. He was like, I'm - you know, I'm sorry, baby. I'm - daddy's just in La La Land.

And so at the time, I didn't know La La Land was a phrase. I thought it was just his way of describing things. So I thought La La was a thing that he had encountered and he had went to its land. And then growing up, the irony of La La potentially being like a drug was - yeah, I thought about that later.

SIMON: Let's listen to a version of this song that you, I guess, recorded initially with a full band behind you.



SANDERS: (Rapping) Daddy sad he would rather be burning a spoon than purchasing food. First of the month, he lurking to use. But his children are amazed, 'cause all we see is his cape, superpowers and tattoos of our names. The same man who would go and snatch every tooth out his face bеfore ever making us feel...

SIMON: Also a very strong and powerful version.

SANDERS: Thank you.

SIMON: But not what you submitted at the Tiny Desk concert. Why was that?

SANDERS: (Laughter) I - we had a plan, and the plan was a great plan. We had gotten together this - I think it was a four-piece band. It was a few of us in there and had rehearsed the song a lot and had come up with a performance that we felt was dynamic but also captured the sentiment of the song. We record it. I'm feeling good about it. We leave. I'm on my way home. I text my manager, like, a very quick screenshot of the video of some of the footage that we captured. And she was like, yeah, that looks great. That's awesome. Just making sure, there was a desk somewhere in the room, right?

SIMON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I was like, OK, yeah, so I'm just going to cry now (laughter). And we had to get it done quickly because we were coming up on the deadline. I was like, well, I'm going to submit something. And what ended up happening is what you all got, which is me at a very actual tiny desk on the kitchen floor, acapella.


SANDERS: (Rapping) 'Cause he's an educated player from Detroit proper, a smooth dada, enough to make the baddies holler.

SIMON: And, you know, if I get a vote, I think it's all the more powerful.

SANDERS: Oh, thank you (laughter). Thank you.

SIMON: And you - in the full band version of the song, we hear some clips of your brothers and sisters...


SANDERS: All right, so what do you remember, like, mostly?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All I remember is getting whoopings.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Discipline, yeah.

SANDERS: Discipline.

SIMON: So was that bittersweet to talk to them, to get them to record that? Was it all laughs or laughs through tears? What was it like?

SANDERS: It was all laughs because it's far enough away, I think, where even the bitter moments have sweetened. There was a sibling who opted out, though, just because she just didn't want to go there. And I understood it. I respected it. But for everyone who opted in, it was because they were in a place where they could sort of look back on those moments and giggle a little.

SIMON: May I ask how your father and your family are all doing now?

SANDERS: They are good (laughter). We are good. He was released in October of 2019, and he has been sober since. And so I'm really grateful for that. My dad said he calls it our song (laughter) so that's my favorite part about it. He's like, I was listening to our song the other day. And then I think my favorite thing about the song is that it has done exactly what I wanted it to do for my family. Like, they - all my siblings said they heard it, and they cried, and they cry nearly every time that they hear it. My dad definitely cries every time he hears it. And I think it's sparked a lot of conversations that were difficult to have. But it's like, well, Rina wrote about it in a song, so it's out there now. Like - it's almost like the door was opened to talk about those things. And I think that has led to a lot of healing.

SIMON: Well, I hope lots of people hear your song. It's very powerful. It touches the human heart.

SANDERS: Oh, Scott, thank you so much. It means so much to hear you say that. I'm so grateful. Thank you (laughter).

SIMON: Zhalarina - and you can see her video of "Lala" on our website, npr.org. Thank you so much for being with us, too.

SANDERS: Yeah, thank you.


SANDERS: (Rapping) If you addicted, I'm committed to loving you through it even if believing you making me look stupid. Man, I swear I'm about to cry right now....

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